Seven years before my son was born, I started working in a tech start up just outside of Tel Aviv. After a week, an insurance agent came to meet me to discuss my pension plan. After reviewing my file, he seemed puzzled.
"You're not married and you don't have children?" he asked again.
"So why do you have such a big life insurance?"
My answer was probably familiar to him as it is to most pension planners: I said, "huh?"
My MBA and B.Sc in Physics did not qualify me to understand the complex pension code of my country. I am certain, to the point of religious belief (because I haven't performed a proper research), that there aren't more than a handful of people who really know much about pension schemes, other than the insurance brokers themselves.
So this young go-getter explained to me quite clearly that my mother, my sister and other possible beneficiaries wouldn't really need my life insurance, and that I should keep it to a minimum until I have a family of my own. Life insurance is an expensive product, he explained.
That incident taught me something important, and so, in my next job, every two years or so, I set up a meeting with my pension agent and discussed the best allocation of my retirement savings. It turned out that the law changed very often, so there was always something new in those meetings.
Soon after my son was diagnosed with autism, I called the insurance company and set another meeting. I explained very clearly that I was a single mother, that my son had a disability that might require expensive treatments for a long time. She checked my policy, advised to make a few changes, and then sold me additional life insurance I had asked for.
It took two more years before I decided another checkup was in order. But since the global financial crisis had come and not gone, I took a step further. On the advice of my sister, I contacted a pension planning consultancy. I explained to them my situation and my goals: providing financial security for myself and my son in every contingency.
They took two weeks examining my file. When I sat with the lovely lady that took my account, it took about five minutes before that motto from the '90s TV show, "The X-Files", flashed in my mind, like a big red sign: "trust no one." Well, at least don't trust an insurance broker that actually works as a salesperson, not as a real advisor.
Everything about my pension plan was wrong, the advisor told me. I was paying premiums for a spouse I didn't have. My plan was biased towards old age savings, but I didn't have a full work-disability coverage. Worse of all, the plan didn't provide much for my son in case I expired before he was 18; pittance, at best. Another plan, the lady showed me, that would reduce my monthly income in retirement by very little, would multiply my son's income in case I'm gone before he was 18, by a factor of TEN. Ten times the money for him. If was still eligible for disability, this consultant said, he could have this income for the rest of his life.
The story didn't end there. It took over a month of back and forth with my insurance company to have all the papers signed.
Four months later, I realized they hadn't sent me the paperwork confirming the status change. I called, emailed and got the most infuriating answer: The plan hadn't changed, due to clerical error.
If something had happened to me during those four months, my son will be left short changed, cheated out of income that could have helped my family take better care of him.
I decided it's time to stop being polite and stop taking things lying down. I asked an executive at my company to handle it, and she contacted the insurance broker's CEO. The matter was settled in 24 hours. It took over a week for the feeling of betrayal to subside a little.
The lesson, though, wasn't forgotten: Blind trust is something that sometime works within a family or other close relationship, not in the relationship you have with service providers of any sort. Trust no one but yourself; be very informed. And pay good money for professional service when it comes to protecting your interests. Just as I didn't begrudge paying a good lawyer to handle the contract when I bought my house, I didn't begrudge one dollar I paid for my pension planning. This is a lesson for any person, any parent, but especially for parents with special children: Take good care of your health, not just the physical one, but the financial one.
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